SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — In a tale of two completely halves of basketball, seventh-seeded Saint Mary’s claimed its fifth NCAA Tournament victory after defeating VCU, 85-77, in the Round of 64.
Saint Mary’s shot lights-out, totaling 56 percent on 25-for-45 from the floor. The Gaels shot 35 percent from beyond the arc and led for a total time of 31:42.
The Gaels had five players score in double-figures. Jock Landale collected his 16th double-double of the season with an 18-point, 13 rebound performance. The big man played a career-high in minutes (40). Calvin Hermanson got things going, ending up with 16 points and 3-of-5 from three-point land.
Senior Joe Rahon battled through foul-trouble, but ended up with 16 points. Emmett Naar nailed 7-of-8 free-throws en route to a 13-point, six assist performance. Coming off the bench, Tanner Krebs played big-time for the Gaels adding 12 points and five rebounds.
The Rams were led by JeQuan Lewis’ 30 points, as the scrappy guard shot 12-for-28 from the field. VCU played aggressively and pressured the Gaels, but were called for 32 fouls. SMC shot a season-high 39 free-throws in the game.
SMC will find out its next matchup later tonight. The Gaels will face the winner of Arizona versus North Dakota on Saturday, March 18. The starting time is to be determined.
Leading by 15 heading into the second half, the Gaels saw themselves locked in a tight battle, as the Rams stormed back to within two with 10:42 left in the game. SMC was up by as much as 17, but Rahon picked his fourth foul and the Rams got things going offensively without the West Coast Conference Defender of the Year on the floor.
Ahead 56-54, the Gaels went back to their brand of basketball, putting the ball down low with the size advantage over VCU. Pineau scored a nice layup, followed by a pair of Landale free-throws for the 60-54 lead.
Reentering the game, Rahon would make his presence felt, hitting a shot-clock beating three-pointer for the 63-56 advantage.
Up 65-60 with 6:13 to go, the Gaels would lean on Hermanson, as he would go on to score seven straight for SMC. The junior would nail both free-throws and knock down another trey to swing the momentum.
Hermanson wasn’t done there, as he would go on a fast-break, elevate and throw down an absolute hammer of a dunk for the 73-63 lead.
The Gaels lead would never reach below five points, as SMC hit clutch free-throws en route to the team’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2013.
The nation’s second best scoring defense put its mark on VCU, forcing the Rams just 13-of-32 from the floor (40.6 percent) in the opening half. The Gaels were on the opposite side of the spectrum, shooting a blistering hot 64 percent from the field. Forcing six Rams turnovers, SMC had the 10-2 advantage in fast-break points to help the Gaels go into the locker rooms with the 46-31 edge.
Landale got the train rolling with back-to-back layups, followed by a Rahon three-pointer for the early 9-7 lead.
Up 19-18, the Gaels converted what was a five-point swing as Landale protected the rim for a thunderous block. The Gaels would then race down the court up-tempo with Naar finding Hermanson for the triple, and the 22-18 lead. Hermanson wasn’t done, as the 6-6 wing drilled his second trey to extend the lead, 25-18, with 7:46 to go.
SMC would continue its hot-streak fueled by a steal from Hermanson, a nice feed from Rahon and the two-hand dunk from Tanner Krebs. Krebs would provide valuable first-half minutes for the Gaels, scoring 12 points and four rebounds.
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